NYT blames yet another culprit: Nokia’s Culture of Complacency

“I am sure there are things we could have done better and innovations we missed,” Ms. Suominen added. “But that happens to all companies. We have been very successful with some other innovations.”

She cited Nokia’s large patent portfolio and its 770 Internet Tablet, a compact, flat-screen device without a phone, released in 2005. It worked with a pen stylus and was made for Internet browsing but is no longer sold.

via Nokia’s New Chief Faces a Culture of Complacency – NYTimes.com.

If I may suggest a better list of innovations for Nokia to stand behind:

  1. The first GSM call in 1991 was made on a Nokia phone and a Nokia network
  2. The first mass-market smartphone, the Communicator in 1998
  3. First compact smartphone, the 7650 in 2002.

While these innovations and “firsts” happened many years ago, Nokia’s ability to innovate is just as important at the low end. Nokia was the first company to address the lowest tiers of the market with over a billion customers served. This was no small feat and many observers faulted the strategy when it began in the middle of the decade.

I would not discount the difficulty and determination required in reaching those customers. Engineering a profitable low end product is as hard if not harder than engineering a high end superphone. More importantly, you have to find a way to distribute to these hard-to-reach customers and find ways to make the product useful, usable and affordable. Were it not for these efforts, the company would be facing collapse today, similar to the fate of Motorola or Ericsson: squeezed in the mid-range.

Blaming “culture” is nothing more than suggesting bad management. The culture of Nokia did not change between the few years when it was successful and the years when it was not.

The challenge Nokia faces is not complacency. It’s that the business model for selling voice-oriented phones is diametrically opposed to the business model for selling data-oriented phones. In one case you cooperate with and sustain operators, in the other you compete with and disrupt them.  It looks damn near impossible to do both with the same organization. Everything must be done differently. The real problem is that Nokia has not realized this and therefore can’t build its own replacement.